2020 Top 10 - ten to six.
Firstly, the annual reminder. These albums have got nothing at all to do with sales, other chart placing or money received as payola. They're the albums that have given me the most pleasure during the course of this very strange year, so it's an esoteric mix, for which I make no apology. It's (if you like) the equivalent of being asked to pick your "Desert Island Discs" on an annual basis. Anyway, there aren't any rules apart from the ones that I make up, so this year it includes an album that was recorded a long time ago, but appeared in public for the first time this year. Five to One will follow!
10. Michel Benita: Looking at sounds.
As with many ECM releases you get very little information from the sleeve notes. Benita himself is Algerian, and he's based in Paris, so I would guess that the other musicians are French. He's featured in several other albums that I've liked, and recorded with Erik Truffaz and Nguyen Le, whose album I lauded last year. This album is for the main part very reflective, and the Flugelhorn Player Matthieu Michel adds his own style to the whole album. This is not an album which will allow you dance (except perhaps very slowly) but it's a wonderful example of reflective European Jazz in 2020.
9. Various Artists: Blue Note Re-imagined.
Tricky one this! Several of the tracks were pre-released and indeed several of the tracks are essential listening, but over 16 tracks there are only four or five that fall into that category. In the main they (for me) tend to be the artists who have had wider recognition in the proto jazz scene, and there are a couple of tracks that are very pale versions of the originals - for they are all tracks that have been recorded by other Blue Note artists. It's probably best for you to sort out for yourselves the tracks that you like, and then work out which ones I liked! My other disappointment was that there was so little information included within the package about the original tracks. When Blue Note re-released their re-mastered CD's in the late 90's they had an informative look at the original album and then added a more considered view. Pity they didn't do that for this package.
8. Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto.
I only got to see Thelonious Monk play once (yeah, I'm that old!) and it seemed at the time that the Quartet playing live suited Monk much better than in a more formal setting. That's why this album, recorded October 27th 1968 is such a delight because the band stretches out as they did and seldom were allowed to do in the recording studio. Quite why the Janitor recorded the session beggars belief, but the quality, apart from one or two blurs is amazing - and the band and Monk sound as though they really enjoyed it. The story behind the album is worth checking out, but so is the album. Incidentally I got my copies before the Monk Estate threatened legal action which delayed it's eventual release. By then I'd played most of the tracks on the show!
7. Benjamin Boone and the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy
Can't remember who suggested this to me - but thanks! Strangely, Benjamin Boone was known to me because of his Classical music releases. he's a Professor at UC Fresno, but also went to Ghana as a Fulbright Scholar 2017 to 2018. It's there that he recorded this rather joyous slice of Afro- American jazz. At a guess they went into the studio with only the vaguest idea of what they wanted to produce and spent the time bouncing ideas off the 5 musicians and vocalist that were involved. Boone plays alto and soprano sax, and the rest of the band is tenor sax, keyboards, bass and drums. The titles vary from an excellent version of Herbie Hancock's 'Maiden voyage' through more cerebral stuff to '233 jazz bar' which is a joyous free for all vamp. Highly recommended.
6. Django Bates: Tenacity.
Recorded with his own trio, and the Norbotten Big Band. It's a mixture of self composed material and Charlie Parker tunes. It took me quite a long time to really get into the music that's on the CD, which Bates himself admits in the sleeve notes requires 'Tenacity' hence the title of the album. The Parker tunes present a different sound to the original sound of Parker himself so listeners might like to start with 'Confirmation' which to me is about as far away from the original as its possible to get. There are two commissioned tracks on the album with "We are not lost we are simply finding our way' being for Radio 3 and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. As ever, Bates is pushing forward the boundaries of what can be described as 'jazz'
Part Two to follow, with choices from five to one, and a couple of tracks that nearly made the cut (but eventually didn't!)